Friday, October 29, 2010

TV's Blah Season

Everywhere I go people are complaining about TV's blah season. They say they're deserting the old line networks in favor of new shows on cable.
Everyone seems to be watching and enjoying the best new series Boardwalk Empire which runs up here on HBO Canada.
New network shows generating buzz are few and far between. But one (female) viewer says she's back to watching series on Friday now that CBS has plopped Blue Bloods on the schedule.
The CBS gamble moving The Big Bang Theory to Thursdays at 8 (CTV simulcasts it) has worked. CBS's Thursday night ratings are up but Fox's ratings are way down overall this seasons.
Fox's House is way off, 17 per cent down from last season. The reason I'm sure: it is certainly NOT an 8 p.m. show and it's also an old show. we've seen everything in the way of boorish behavior from Hugh Laurie's eccentric character.
Fox's two big new shows, Raising Hope and Running Wild are starching at 48 and 64 in the ratings meaning they'll probably wind up as one season wonders.
And at Fox there' should be real concern over the declining numbers for American Idol. Don't forget Sim Cowell won't be back next year.
Bloomberg News is reporting Fox is down 17 per cent among its most loyal fan base-- viewers in the "young adult" category.
Initial ratings for a whole lot of shows are lower than expected because younger viewers tend to watch them later on their DVDs.
When DVD viewing is factored in Modern Family becomes the highest rated show among 18-49ers. That's according to Hollywood Reporter.
Similarly low rated The Event with Jason Ritter on NBC becomes NBC's best new series of the season when DVD Viewing is factored in.
But "must see" new series? I can't think of any network offerings off hand, can you?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Being Human Back For Second Season

They are the unlikiest of room mates.
Think of Being Human, BBC's monster success (in more ways than one) as a weird version of Three's Company.
Only here the twentysomethings living together are a vampire, werewolf and ghost.
Season Two revs up on Space Thursday Oct. 28 at 10 p.m.
And. yes, the concept sounds ridiculous. But imaginative film making and superior acting turns this one into a creepy, funny, sometimes romantic hit.
Lenora Crichlow is sensationally sexy as the ghost Annie who in the new season desires respectability and decides to apply as a barmaid, a job she's always craved.
Of course none of the customers can touch her or poof she disappears but what the heck.
It took a viewers' petition to get Space to carry it where ratings have zoomed. And fans thwarted a BBC-TV attempt to destroy it.
Look, I know there's a glut of supernatural TV shows around right now from the obviously titled Supernatural to the sexy Vampire Diaries.
But where does Being Human fit in?
Well, it's often an interior study of what it means to be different --the feeling of alienation and loneliness is always there.
Each of the mates has terrible problems. Werewolf George (Russell Tovey) goes out an eats an elk every full moon.
Vampire Adam (Aidan Turner) knows if he continues dating he'll want to do more than buss the unlucky girl.
Creator Toby Whithouse (Torchwood, Doctor Who) has done a masterful job of creating characters we can believe in and plopping them down in ordinary situations. Adam and George toil at a local hospital where they wipe up muck and contemplate life and at home they have to attend to all the ordinary household chores.
BBC ran a well regarded pilot in February, 2008, only to initially decide not to proceed with a series. But fan uproar caused the Corp to reconsider and proceed.
I hope I'm not giving away too much plot by leaking that this year trouble comes from a religious group determined to root out the undesirables.
The second series was made in Cardiff, Wales, and the seamy underbelly of the city ressembles sets from Torchwood --another BBC scifier which is also coming back but in partnership with American TV.
What I like is how the writers transcend the silliness of the plot to offers scenes truly stunning for the sheer humanity of the trapped characters. Special effects are down played but are there when needed. The story takes big risks and mostly succeds. We all feel like misfits from time to time but for the protagonists of Being Human they'll be true misfits forever.
MY RATING: ****.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ron James : From Stand Up To TV Star

So here I am in Ron James's King St. E offices --his own workroom is oddly muted without the expected paraphernalia of Canada's standup king.
"That's how I am," he shrugs leading the way to "a safe chair, the other one tilts ver if you lean back."
It's a cold Monday afternoon out there but James is already knee deep in preparations for the New Year's Eve hour version of his CBC comedy series --separate shows are taped Thursdays and Fridays before the obligartory "live audience."
In person he's friendly but contemplative. Jokes don't roll of his tongue as might be expected. He's like so many top comics, introspective and critical of his own work.
"On the weekend I did the Niagara Falls casino, 2,000 people," he says. "And that calls for a different sort of delivery. You just can't go out and chat up the first row. The guy who paid just as much and is sitting in Row M might get annoyed."
And what about the TV gig, this is season two.
"We're all getting the hang of it," he smiles. "I mean it's a real learning experience. I do stand up at the beginning every week. That means new material every week. On the road I had time to refine the material."
And the sketches. Although I liked a lot of them I sometimes had the feeling James was holding back a bit.
"I'd be doing the opening monologue and wondering how the heck can I change into that shepher'd costume in one minute flat?" he admits with a laugh.
So this season the sketches have been done in advance. "We started in August. And they're shot out on real locations as opposed to the studio sets. We still have a grand gaggle of guests --Deb McGrath is in one, I know that. And we rounded up the greats --I just feel more comfortable. I think we've all found my comfort zone."
That still doesn't mean he'll occasionally sneak out for a live gig. "It's where I'm from and summers I still tour although I took the girls back to the East Coast for a week of dipping my toe in the waters and, well, just thinking."
On Friday nights James continues to struggle for the ratings CBC thinks he deserves --trouble is many fans are out Fridays shopping (the older ones) or clubbing (the younger). Still, last Friday he averaged a not bad 559,000 on the least watched night of the week.
"People are still discovering the show. They get where I'm at. I generally leave the political stuff to Rick Mercer (a guest last week) and This Hour. When I talk politics I'm in a more general frame of mind." Concentrations on the political scandal of the week are downgraded to a riff on paint colors and his desperate search to find simple white paint.
In one sketch he partners with Deb McGrath and Devon Bostick in a hilarious piece about their high school kid caught with a marijuana joint --trouble is the boy had borrowed dad's jacket for the day. You get where the jokes are going?
"We first met on Blackfly," he suddenly remembers. "I was very uncomfortable on that one."
Trouble is the innovative 2001Canadian sitcom was often very funny but it was also all over the place.
James not only starred, he led a ragged team of comedy writers and an ecclectric cast (including Richard Donat, James Klee, Colin Mochrie) all set in an English fort in early colonial Canada. Critics often say a series was ahead of its time when it flops but Blackfly had a cadre of loyal supporters and got better over its 26 episodes.
"With this series I had good feelings from the start. A lot worked in the first year. The L'il Ronnie animation worked from the start. But this season we've added Odes To The Road looking humorously at all the places I've toured in Canada."
And there's James as furniture salesman named Larry Garibaldi who'll be popping up consistently.
Also new in this episode is an historical episode casting James as great PM Wilfrid Laurier and his vision of what Alberta could be (co-starring is Corner Gas's eric Peterson).
About the writers and directors he says "We spent the first year getting to know each other. Now we're raring to be abit more daring. It's a completely different world for me, this TV series. It requires different muscles, to look past the studio audience. Busy? I never really knew how busy."
In fact executive producer Lynn Harvey says the crew has been so busy they haven't had the time to negotiate a DVD release of the first season.
"I'm thinking if this is what it means to be in the trenches then I feel at home.We're getting there week after week, I can feel it. Frustrations? I can't finesse the monologue after taping. But the writers keep surprising me and I trust their opinions. I'm getting camera savvy, I really am. The audience deserve to see a finely honed show and that's what they're getting.Then on Monday it's back into the battlefield."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Has Mad Men Finally Gone Mad?

The Mad Men blogs were going crazy all week.
On one site we were told that perhaps little Sally would be a suicide. Gasp!
On another there was the prediction that Roger had run out of excuses and would surely kill himself.
And then on came season 4's grand finale.
My first impression: this it it?
On season 4 Don dodged a continuing series of career and life pitfalls.
He set up a new agency only to learn the FBI were onto him and may have learned that he had assumed a dead man's identity.
Daughter Sally ran away in one episode and masturbated to a TV episode in another while ex-wife Betty spirlled into continuing depression.
The finale had Don take up with his comley French Canadian secretary after she took care of the kids in a strange California visit.
She's as dopey and dependent as Betty but why does Don always fall for bimbos when there's Peggy at the office who in the episode's only good news lands a new $250,000 account.
Oh, Roger is fine, Betty is moving to a new home with Henry, and Joan has a baby bump.
This is it? This is all there is?
I was expecting much more. How about you?
And season 5 won't be on until next August. Sigh.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Steve Martin Returns To Stand Up

How long has it been since I saw Steve Martin doing stand up comedy?
Must be at least 25 years, way, way back when he was that wild and crazy young guy guesting with Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show.
He's grown up an awful lot since those days.
Did you catch him opposite Meryl Streep in last year's movie hi tIt's Complicated. Most of the laughs were reserved for co-star Alec Baldwin while Martin concentrated on characterization.
And then there are his fine essays for The New Yorker and his must read books.
The only time I encountered him was when he was producing a short lived series with George Burns in the 1980s and he explained he wanted to try it all rather than be limited by just one talent.
On Monday night's Just For Laughs Martin ttempts stand up again and what else can I say he's ingratiating and great. It really was worth waiting for.
Bruce Hills CEO of Just For Laughs has just emailed me:"It was a thrill of a lifetime to have Steve Martin at Just For Laughs this summer. Monday night's show captures one of the most memorable nights in our history. We're excited for people to see it."
Martin says he finally returned to his comedy roots after his pal Martin Short was such a hit the year before.
Look, he even brings in his own band for some banjo music. They've already played together live on the Grammys. Remember?
The Steep Canyon Rangers
TV critics usually ignore the CBC version of Just For Laughs. The actual Montreal festival has been around for 28 years and the TV version still delivers sturdy ratings for CBC.
Martin tells the audience at one point he last played stand up in Montreal some 40 years ago. But who's counting. Also, Martin introduces a selection of up and comers. The best of the bunch by far is Steve Patterson.
Everything Martin does gets applause from a deeply grateful audience. And that's as it should be.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The New Season Really Stinks!

Please tell me why has this new TV season turned out to be the worst ever?
I've been at a few industry gigs in the past few weeks and nobody was talking about any of the new network shows.
Instead people were talking about Boardwalk Empire if they were talking about anything new.
Or people were trying to guess how the best ever season of Mad Men would end. And Mad Men is hardly a new show. And it's not on any standard network but AMC, a relatively new entrant in the series wars.
So what happened?
Well, for one thing the new product was really, really dumb. As in stupid. As in predictable. As in I've seen it all before.
I really enjoyed the reboot of CBS's Hawaii Five-0 and I hope it succeeds but I don't plan my evenings around catching the next new episode.
Nikita was sexy in an old fashioned way --I much preferred the first TV version with Peta Wilson.
And the more the watch of No Ordinary People the more I can see it has the makings of a sturdy hit.
But the one show that all the critics (except me) thought would morph into a cult classic got canned after just two episodes.'
Yes, I'm referring to Lone Star.
Last year Glee took off and became must-see TV and so to a lesser degree did Modern Family.
But this year there was what? Outlaws stank and got creamed by Blue Bloods.
My Generation couldn't get me involved. And it is also gone.
The Event is not going to be the next Lost. Trust me.
And the profusion of law and order shows is just strange. The only one I really like is Law & Order: Los Angeles, a careful retinkering of a decades old formula that works well in a new environment.
A lot of people simple stuck with the old standards. If they weren't watching the cable networks.
A couple of times I found myself tuning to Dancing With The Stars.
Now that'sd true desperation!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Lost JFK Tapes: Practically A Must See!

It was November 22, 1963, and I'd just finished writing my Grade XII Latin paper.
I walked out of Riverdale College (in Toronto's East End) and across to the bank to cash a scholarship check.
Inside there was emotional pandemonium. All the tellers and most of the customers were crying buckets.
"His poor wife..."was the lasting comment I remember.
President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Reports were vague whether he would survive.
I dashed home and watched live coverage from CBS's Walter Cronkite for the rest of that day.
And I thought I'd seen it all until the preview DVD of the "new" two-hour special The Lost JFK Tapes: The Assassination came my way.
You see back in 1963 there was no satellite transmission available. Cronkite for hours was basically running a radio news program with very few "images" to support him.
But the images do exist. It's just that most of us outside of the Dallas area never got to see them.
It was producer *(*(*(*('s idea to scour the local TV archives to see if any other material besides the network coverage ever got to TV and whether it could be restored and shown --remember videotape was in its infancy.
What he discovered was astonishing: hours of breaking news as reported live by Dallas's three TV outlets. Most of this was never seen outside the Dallas archives. Send to storage for 45 years, the tapes have been restored and edited into an engrossing account of that fateful day.
Crews simply planted their cameras firmly and shot for hours.
The day starts ominously in Fort Worth with a breakfast presentation to President Kennedy and wife Jacqueline where he is presented with a stetson but politely declines to put it on.
The coverage of the arrival at Dallas Love Field is complete. Some of the footage in color came from film crews --all the black and white stuff is videotape.
The most jarring moment comes when the Secret Service make the momentous decision because of the warm weather to disregard the bubble top so well wishers have a better chance to glimpse the glamourous couple. If the bullet proof glass bubble had been up Kennedy would have survived.
There is a ton of new stuff of the couple riding in triumph down crowded Dallas streets. The warmth of the reception is unmistakeable. Mrs. Kennedy in her hot pink suite is glimpsed chatting away to her husband. Both are basking in sheer adulation.
And then the shots --several different views of the shooting are presented. The most dramatic has a Secret Service man jumping onto the back of the car as Mrs. Kennedy shields her stricken husband.
The chaos at Parkland Hospital was fully captured by the news crews --at one point the rumor floats that Vice President Lyndon Johnson has been hit. Then, no, he's had a heart attack.Rumors about the fate of Governor Connelly float around.
There's an amazing amount of coverage of killer Lee Harvey Oswald in a downtown theater armed with a shotgun and many scenes of the press shouting questions as he proceeds into interrogation rooms.
Biggest surprise: in the midnight press conference Jack Ruby, Oswald's eventual assassin, is seen stalking in the background. And days later he darts out of the crowd to mortally shoot Oswald who screams and falls to the ground.
Even when Oswald is pronounced dead at Parkland hospital there's still confusion. One reporter continues calling him "Lee Harold Oswald".
Three funerals are then showcased: the lavish state funeral of Kennedy, the sad funeral of Officer Tippit in Dallas, and Oswald's funeral, barred to the public, where the only available pall bearers are the film crews covering the event.
The tiny human events are noticed: one of the eye witnesses says he heard shots coming from behind him supporting the thesis there was a second killer at the grassy knoll. When the President's death is announced at the luncheon where he was supposed to speak a black waiter breaks down in tears and we watch as the presidential seal is taken down from the podium.
The Lost JFK Tapes is the first must-see TV event of the season, so meticulously stitched together, with the past suddenly becoming alive again 47 years after those dreaded events. Contemporary students should be watching for the history lesson. Others like yours truly can finally see the whole sad spectace meticulously laid out --the first real test of TV's ability to carry a breaking event that truly changed the course of world events.
MY RATING: ****.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Stop Simulcasting Now!

Lunch last week with a casual acquaintance who started teasing me by asking: "Oh, is there a new Canadian TV season."
I knew exactly what she was saying. Like everybody else I become fixated on the dozens of new American series and I tend to neglect the Canadian ones.
But it's not my fault.
I blame simulcasting.
Before simulcasting Canadian TV was far more vibrant and competitive.
These days the commercial networks try to simulcast all their American product and I can't blame them.
Simulcasting was a device invented some 25 years ago to stem the flow of Canadian advertising dollars to border U.S. stations and it's been mighty effect.
Before simulcasting Buffalo stations raked in some $25 million a year in advertising from Canadian companies.
These days you'd be hard pressed to find a single Canadian ad on any of the Buffalo outlets.
Simulcasting became possible as more of us in southern Ontario switched to cable.
Under CRTC guidelines Canadian TV stations and networks can direct local cable companies to black out the incoming U.S. signal and substitute a Canadian one of the program being carried is the same.
When you switch on CBS's WIVB in Buffalo to catch CSI you may be completely unaware you are actually watching CTV's signal from Toronto.
You're paying enormous cable bills for services you often aren't receiving because most Buffalo affiliates are being simulcast by one Canadian network or another right through prime time.
By this trick CSI and all other U.S. series simulcast on U.S. stations get a double rating.
There's no way Canadian series can compete, no way.
Before simulcasting Canadian networks certainly stockpiled American fare.
But they would instead prerelease their U.S. shows a few days before the American release date.
Under that system Canadian viewers got two chances to see a new episode of something like St. Elsewhere or Executive Suite.
Simulcasting may reap big bucks for the Canadian networks but it has threatened their programming independence as well as a lot of their identity.
Why not restrict each network to eight hours of simulcasting a week and encourage them to counterprogram more imaginiatively in other time slots?
The winners would be the viewers who are getting ripped off by this simulcasting scam.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

TV Salaries: Up, Up And Away?

Back in the 1980s I published a list of CBC star salaries that created quite a kerfuffle with my loyal Toronto Star readers.
There was great indignity among Toronto Star readers that leading reporters at the Corp were drawing as much as --gasp, gasp-- $90,000 a year.
The nerve! The very idea!
It remained for CBC-TV news honcho Denis Harvey to carefully explain that after all American newshounds could make millions more than that in a year.
These days CBS's Katie Couric pulls in $15 million a year as CBS's chief newsreader, a sum that seems just about right even though her ratings are but a pale shadow of former CBS icon Walter Cronkite.
And ratings for prime time U.S.TV shows went south years ago but that hardly stopped House's Hugh Laurie for demanding and getting $400,000 for each and every one of the 22 episodes of House he'll make this season.
Years and years ago Frasier's Kelsey Grammer racked in an identical salary and his was for a half hour sitcom as against Laurie's hourlong drama.
Other bigtop salaries revealed in The Hollywood Reporter: Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay each draw $395,000 for Law & Order: SVU which isn't even a Top Ten hit.
David Caruso of CBS's CSIU: Miami gets a pay packet worth $375,000 while Castle's Nathan Fillion draws $100,000 as does Jon Hamm of Mad Men (which only has 13 new episodes a year).
These figures pale before Oprah Winfrey's gargantuan $315 million --but her gig is five times a week. By contrast Kate Gosselin must make ends meet at $250,000 while Jersey Shore's Snooki Pilizzi gets small change to the tune of $30,000.
For sitcom actors --heck for TV series actors anywhere --Charlie Sheen is tops, raking in $1.25 million an episode. You do the math: multiply by 22 to see what his yearly earning are.
Jeremy Piven of Entourage gets $350,000 but remember he's on cable as is 88-years young Betty White who draws $75,000 for Hot In Cincinnati.
Now what does this all mean for Canadian TV stars?
What the stats don't tell us are how much the talent gets in "back end" meaning DVD sales. One L.A. producer told me a boxed set of his series can make more money than the actual network license these days. That's what precipitated the last bunch of writers and actors strikes.
And it's why some of your vintage shows have still to hit DVD: there's endless behind the scenes bickering over who gets what and for how long.
But I'm guessing Laurie makes more for an episode of House than he ever made when he was TV's Bertie Wooster.
I guess it merely proves why so much of our home grown talent migrate to L.A. every year for pilot season.
And why Canadian TV can hardly compete in the big bucks league.
I'm not making excuses, just explaining why Canadian TV always has that beleagured look about it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Burn My Mortgage Offers Hope

The economic news these days is dreary and depressing.
So a series titled Burn My Mortgage conjures up images of irate home buyers literally making bonfires of all their financial bills on their front lawn.
But, relax, it's no that kind of show.
Rather the Toronto-made series offers serious tips on how to pay down your mortgage before old age overtakes you.
The premiere is on Tuesday Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. on the W network.
I learned all about the concept last week when I had lunch with the two personable hosts.
Kelley Keehn is the big name, an Alberta based financial expert who every week takes a couple on a voyage of discover to discover how much money they're tossing away on the frivolities of life.
Her sidekick is Waterloo based broadcaster Chad Bisch who came in after an initial pilot was junked --he tested with Kelly and it was a case of "instant chemistry".
Thei human "guinea pigs" in the first episode are a very nice couple Christine and Roman Sharanewych--we visit with them at their tony suburban home that also includes two sons who are into every type of sports.
The shock comes when they realize they spend $17,000 a year just on sports. The equipment is carted from the gargate to a soccer field and --suprise--many of the items have never been used.
Wait! There's more. They spend $1,000 a month juston take out and restaurant meals --the amount keeps creeping even higher because Christine also has a job and often doesn't have time to cook big dinners.
The housekeeper they employ costs. the landscape gardener costs. The dry cleaning costs.
"In this series we selected people who could afford to save," Keehn explains. "First of all there were ads on the Internet and on W. We didn't want people desperately trying to stave off foreclusure --that's another stories. We were after average families who were not aware the huge amount of monthly pay that went into frivolities.
"And the thing is after the economies they can still have some take out. Just not every other night of the week."
But why would Christine and Roman and the other couples profiled in the 13-episode series be willing to give up their privacy to become reality TV stars?
"I think their time was now,"Keehan guesses. "They knew they had a problem but didn't know where to begin."
When presented with their bills for takeout the couple look stunned.
And when faced with the vast litter of all that unused sports equipment they're equally shocked.
Somehow their expenses crept up and up and nobody really noticed until it was almost too late.
Tht's where energetic Chad Bisch steps in. He takes the couples --now contestants --through some fairly rigorous physical challenges that would enable them to win up to $5,000 that can be used to help pay down their mortgage. In Episode 1 the four family members dash about cutting a field of grass, race through obstacles, hunt for prizes at the bottom of a hundred orders of Chinese takeout --it's a real physical challenge.
"It was fun," Bosch grins. "And I think the families sort of enjoyed it although that was a lot of grass to be cut."
When last seen on camera this family of four are brown bagging their lunches, the boys have stopped hanging out at a private golf course and everybody helps in cooking suppers in the kitchen.
Biggest surprise is the revelation Roman is a financial adviser --he was unprepared for the family's spending spree, no doubt about it.
"In all the families we profiled the kids were surprisingly supportive," says Keehn. "They were willing to make some changes to help parents burn that mortgage down. They though it sucked to be worried about making mortgage patyments at 70."
Keehn says the biggest hurdle was making sure each couple had a different set of problems otherwise the narrative would get repetitive. "Different families experience different kinds of financial setbacks."
Bisch says the three challenges per show are different for each couple, too.
The first episode seen was actually the fourth to be shot --at the last minute the third was pulled because the fourth played stronger.'
"We just got along from the start," Bisch says. "And we got better with each episode. Each was shot in four days so that's a lot of footage to be boiled down to 21 minutes. Sometimes the cameras are still rolling and the couple will be way off in the dustance and unaware we're still shooting. The challenge was to make them feel as comfortable as possible and none had been in front of the camera before."
Favorite location was Mississauga because it's the perfect suburban setting and the series is being sold to U.S. TV, too. But there are other locations throughout southern Ontario. "I mostly got to drive home to Waterloo at night,"Bisch says. "Even the days we were in Richmond Hill."
Made by RTR Media the series boasts excellent references: executive Kit Redmond's series include Instant Beauty Pageant and Income Property.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Can Men With Brooms Become The Next Corner Gas?

Ever since the serendipitous success of Corner Gas Canadian TV producers have been chasing the next great sitcon hit.
The Saskatchewan comedy was an instant hit when it debuted on CTV in 2004 and might still be going strong only creator and star Brent Butt pulled the plug in 2009.
But even Butt couldn't guarantee a second hit with his next series, Hiccups, starring wife Nancy Robertson which ran on CTV last season for 13 episodes and failed to bring in Corner Gas's audience.
And another co-star Fred Ewanuick similarly had mixed results with his next sitcom Dan For Mayor.
Now it's CBC's turn.
CBC sources acknowledge that Little Mosque On The Prairie is running out of steam --it will be a midseason replacement this year, an indication cancellation is just around the corner.
So CBC is pinning its hopes on the TV spinoff of Paul Gross's movie hit Men With Brooms.
Only Gross isn't in it very much --Aside from a few cameos he's only the unseen narrator which may only confuse fans waiting for him to pop up.
The comedy is likable enough but has a long way to go to go before it reaches CG's level of humor.
One problem: the talented young cast tries too hard to be funny. On CG the regulars never stopped to wait for the laugh, they just plowed right ahead. MWB's cast over react to lines, they have yet to create that perfect world where all their strange actions seem right at home.
I spent a few moments with the stars at a recent CBC event. They told me it was shot in Winnipeg in clusters --sometimes they'd do scenes from another episode but this can't help their comedic timing.
There's nothing wrong with the show a better sense of pacing wouldn't cure
Set in the backwater of Long Bay where the local curling skip Chris Cutter (Paul Gross) led his team to a Golden Broom championship.
Brendan Gall is pop-eyed fine as loading dock worker Gary --stick around for episode 2 where he gets to shine when Gary's "birth tree" is torn down and sawed up.
Matt (William Vaughan) is even dimmer, a loading dock co-worker not playing with a full deck who somehow fancies he's a chick magnet.
Then there's Bill (Joel Keller from Blue Murder) who runs the curling club. and doughnut store owner Pramesh (Anand Rajaram) who is fixated on obscure board games. And what about Rani (Glenda Braganza),his controlling wife. And let's not forget the wry bartender Tannis (Aliyah O'Brien).
And Siobhan Murphy adds some fun as the new company accountant April. She's simply great in Episode 2 when Gary takes her on a tour of his childhood haunts only to discover everything has been torn down.
The pilot didn't really excite me but the second episode which I also previewed is light years better.
The trouble in Canadian TV is simply money: a second pilot, a fixture in American TV, might have solved a lot of the problems I encountered.
I talked with the gang about the lack of a laugh track which I think this comedy needs. Hey, it worked in M*A*S*H which was no slouch in the best ever comedy sweepstakes
Based on the acting talent Men With Brooms deserves to succeed. But it's still anybody's guess if it goes into a second season.
One way of knowing: if famous Canadians like Peter Mansbridge or Stephen Harper start popping up --everybody who was anybody seemed to stop in at Lacey's Dog River cafe.

Second Season For In Real Life

Like most TV critics I sometimes get carried away covering the new season shows on conventional TV networks.
I've got to remember there are new seasons of cable networks, too, and one of these returns Monday night at 7 for its second year.
In Real Life takes 18 precocious kids aged 12 to 14 and pits them in various challenging situations.
A cross between Survivor and Amazing Race but without the salacious bits this one runs in hour installments and is well shot and edited.
I'd like to have known a bit more about the kids and how each one was selected.
We do get to see them all lined up with their names on the screen but they're assembled in dueling teams of two people each fairly quickly.
What are they competing to win? College tuition and family vacations are the bait for the winners.
This year there's an addition: there's a never-before-seen online companion game titled Race To The Finish which allows kids at home to accumulate points they can put toward their favorite TV challenger.
After the show's finale thje two winners of the online competition get reunited in a bonus webisode.
Kids knocked off on the TV series can make comebacks and they might even win the online game --there;ll be a specual webisode made with the game's winner.
For the TV version the host is comedian Sabrina Jalees although she doesn't get much time to be funny.
Tears erupt two times in the first new episode and both occasions it's a young male who is reacting and not a girl.
The 10-episode show is made by Montreal based Apartment 11 Productions and the way it's shot and edited is completely gripping. Here's a show adults and their kids might actually like to watch together. Or is that kind of family TV bonding considered passe in this world of specialty channels?
The 18 contestants come from 15 centers across Canada and are evenly divided between boys and girls. First impression: the girls seem more mature, they're all no nonsense, get out there and do it kind of young people with the boys sometimes getting a bit emotional when they can't do something.
The first episode finds the competing teams at the Elora Gorge working as wilderness rescuers with the help of experts from Equinox Adventures. They have to traverse the gorge on a high altitude wire, traverse the swollen river in inflatable craft and every seconds count.
There are losers who are promptly evicted from the game. And sadly one of the contestants has to drop out with damage to his arm. Hey, I watched the entire hour and this sense of competition makes for fast moving TV.
Veteran Jonathan Finkelstein made it and next week the competition is all about the intrepid world of spies.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Remembering Tony Curtis

There I was rushing through the lobby of Toronto's Harbor Castle hotel on my way to interviewing Tony Curtis.
And then I saw him waiting by the elevator, resplendent in a white mink cape and with a white pompadour wig perched uneasily on his head.
Was I meeting Curtis or Liberace?
I'd already met Liberace once in Hamilton and his wigs had nothing on Curtis's.
When Curtis died last week at 85 of heart failure coverage was extensive and I had to ask why.
Bigger stars like Glenn Ford had gotten minimal obituary coverage.
I think it was a sort of universal sadness that with the death of Curtis practically all who represented the Golden Age of Hollywood are dead.
Of the Oscar winners only Luise Rainer at 100 is still alilve from the Thirties, from the forties only those continually feuding sisters Joan Fontaine, 93, and older sis Olivia de Havilland, 94, are still around if hardly active.
I'd first met Curtis when in L.A. in 1972 when he was promoting his short lived series The Persuaders.
By 1972 his movie career was in tatters and he had yet to reach 50.
A series of terrible films (Boeing, Boing, Goodbye, Charlie) had sunk him at the box office combined with a series of bizarre marriages. He told me he was working so hard because he owed so much alimony.
Always affable and with a string of marvelous anecdotes, he jumped when I told him I'd just seen (on TV) his first movie, 1949's The Lady Gambles starring Barbara Stanwyck --he had a one minute bit as a bellhop. Billed as "Anthony Curtis" he made $100 a week and was part of a coterie of young names pushed by ace publicist Henry Willson.
"I was one of the last batch of Universal starlets," he laughed. "I was 24 and my pals on the lot included the other starlets: Jeff Chandler, Julie Adama, George Nader, Rock Hudson, Piper Laurie, Hugh O'Brien."
As a little kid in the early Fifties I adored Tony Curtis movies at the Saturday matinees at Toronto's Century movie palace on the Danforth.
When I reeled off the titles Curtis laughed again: The Prince Who Was A Thief, Son Of Ali Baba, The Black Shield Of Falworth, The Purple Mask.
"I did not say 'Yonda is de castle of my fodda' " he protested. "That was Walter Matthau doing an impersonation of me!"
But gradually the parts got better. He was spectacularly effective in the brilliant 1957 film The Sweet Smell Of Success and definitely should have been Oscar nominated. He did get an Oscar bid (his only nomination) for 1958's The Defiant Ones and for the next few years was a top box office star: Some Like It Hot, Operation Petticoat opposite his idol Cary Grant, Spartacus. If you want to see how effective Curtis could be you must catch him in The Boston Strangler (1968) and Lepke (1975) which was his last major role.
His parts became terrible --when I told him I'd just seen The Manitou (1978) he winced and said he'd never seen it.
Later we had a reunion of sorts when he was co-starring in the TV series Vegas (1978-81) and playing second fiddle to Robert Urich.
I remember Curtis saying great fame and fortune did not translate into personal happiness.
"I still thought of myself as Bernie Schwartzand not Tony Curtis just as Cary Grant always thought of himself as Archie Leach."
Curtis wound up marrying six times. With first wife Janet Leigh he had two actress daughters Jamie Lee and Kelly. A son would die from a drug overdose and Curtis would later admit to addictions to both booze and drugs before he became clean.
When he stopped director Billy Wilder in a restaurant to tell him of his loss Wilder snapped "He learned from a master"--a cruel jest that devastated Curtis.
Curtis was pretty much resigned to being remembered for his comedic turn in Some Like It Hot --he played sax player Joe who donned disguises as Josephine and a millionaire yacht player. At the time he was quoted as saying that kissing Marilyn Monroe was like kissing Hitler but he later mellowed and allowed that she was among the greats he'd worked with.
"She had her problems. We all did, only those who've been stars can appreciate the toil it takes on you emotionally."
And with Curtis's passing the three great stars and director of Hollywood's funniest ever comedy, Some Like It Hot, have left us.

Remembering Steven J. Cannell

So there I was lounging in the Hollywood Boulevard office of Stephen J. Cannell as we jawed on and on about the state of U.S. network TV.
The time was 1986 and Cannell had such hits on TV as The A Team (1983-87) and Riptide (1985-86).
And he had a dozen other ideas he was trying to turn into series.
I have to tell you of all the thousands of people I got to interview in L.A. during my 38 years as a newspaper TV critic I admired the writers the best.
I remember driving out to posh Bel Air for an exclusive with Ernest Lehman the great writer of Sweet Smell Of Success when his brilliant movie was about to be turned into a --gasp -- Broadway musical (it tanked).
And there was an entire afternoon on the set of Murder She Wrote with the elusive creator Peter Fisher who almost never gave interviews.
And right up there was the amazing Cannell who died Thursday at his Pasadena home from melanoma at the age of 69.
What a talent. Nobody could write dialogue like this guy.
Hits included Hunter, The Comish, Stingray, Hardcastle And McCormick, Black Sheep Squadron, Toma.
He'd created the fantastic series The Rockford Files for Jim Garner and he wrote the best scripts of that long running series.
First a description of his office. Unpretentious. A typewriter was at his desk with a half finished page of dialogue. Nice,comfy couches where one could really sink in and contemplate the walls adorned with plaques and the shelves of awards.
At his desk slouched the rumpled figure, a friendly grin on that lined face, and he offered bottled water and hours of brilliant talk.
Few people knew or cared that Cannell had struggled with dyslexia since high school days and was flunked by uncomprehending teachers several times.We talked about that, of course.
But he made it to the top of his profession through sheer talent. He came to regard his disability as a gift from God.
It made him listen closely to the way people talked and he had an uncanny ability to replicate that onto the page.
"Nobody will understand the heartbreak I felt as a teenager," he said simply.
And he loved writing for series TV. He loved exploring characterizations over many years. He was a hands on producer of his series --some of the others would set up a new series and then walk away to the next project.
Another thing, he loved actors.
During one of the press tours ABC held an all-star party for him to celebrate his 30 years in the business.
And everybody who'd ever been in a Cannell series was there. There was Ken Wahl from Wiseguy (1987-90) and he never went to parties.
There was Bruce Greenwood who'd been in a rare Cannell flop titled Legmen.
George Peppard came loaded with gifts and told me The A Team (1983-87) had saved his career. Robert Culp from Greatest American Hero was in a rare benevolent mood. It was quite a gathering. Hundreds of industryites showed up.
And then it all seemed to cave in for him. His type of show, action driven, male oriented was out and the likes of Hill Street Blues was in.
Cannell soldered on. The last time we spoke was on the phone when he had moved production facilities to Vancouver. He made 21 Jump Street and Wiseguy there and later had a deal with CTV to make the "Canadian" series Scene Of The Crime (1991) starring Barbara Parkins which ran late nights on CBS.
Cannell told me he felt out of it in the new Hollywood and was busy writing novels. A retread of Hunter flopped in 2003 and that was about it for the once mighty creator unlike contemporary Aaron Spelling who had enjoyed a big comeback(with Beverly Hills 90210).
Cannell was always grateful for his success. And eager to get back to his typewriter (he wasn't a computer kind of guy).